5 tips for living off campus
Living off campus can be an exciting time. For many students, it's the first time they'll be living with so much freedom. There are no parents or RA's to provide structure or rules. But with more freedom comes more responsibilities, whether students realize it or not. If you know someone planning to move off campus, make sure to pass along these things to keep in mind.
- Housing. Unlike college housing, where you simply had to hand the school a deposit, you'll actually be responsible for finding a place on your own. This might mean contacting a realtor or using online housing search tools. Depending on where your college is located, living off campus might mean renting an apartment or renting a whole house. You'll have to make some decisions regarding amenities versus cost as well. While you can find apartment complexes in certain cities that include things like a pool and gym, these extras will raise the price. You can save money by choosing a place without all the fancy extras, and also by getting roommates.
- Bills. Paying bills is one of the biggest factors about living off campus. Make sure to budget your money wisely each month, and to have money put aside for any upfront costs, such as a security deposit. If you'll be using a loan to pay, check with your school's financial aid office to see how they will go about getting the money to you, as each school has its own policy. Once you've found a place to live, check with your landlord to see if any of the utilities are included. For utilities not included, you'll have to open your own account through local companies in your area for things like cable, internet, electricity, and gas. If you know any students who have lived off campus in the past, it might be a good idea to see which companies they used. Also, make sure you know what you're signing up for. Some companies will offer you a good deal, but it may require you to sign a multi-year contract. If you only plan on staying in your housing for the school year, this might not be the best option for you.
- Groceries. While most schools will allow you to get a meal plan even as an off-campus student, chances are you'll be eating the majority of meals in your apartment or house. This means you'll have to go grocery shopping. You can usually save money by buying nonperishable items in bulk. For items with a shelf life, such a fruit and vegetables, buy only what you will need for a week or two at a time. If you have roommates, figure out the grocery situation when you first move in. Are there common items, like milk and bread, that you can share? Or will everyone be responsible for their own items? If you don't have much experience cooking, you might want to purchase a cook book of simple recipes for beginners. It can be easy to wind up in a cycle of living off takeout, but it's usually not healthy and definitely not a financially smart choice. Basic ingredients can go a long way with a little creativity!
- Commuting to campus. Make sure you've figured out a plan for how you will be getting to campus. If you plan on driving, you'll probably need to get a parking pass to park on campus. Check with your school to see if there are any restrictions on when you can park there (for example, is overnight parking permitted?). If you'll be taking public transportation, find out the train and bus schedules and make a copy of the schedule to save. If you'll be walking to campus, make sure you have proper attire for the weather, such as rain boots or a winter jacket.
- Cleaning. I know the biggest shock for me living off campus was how much cleaning was required. In a dorm, you can get by with simply making your bed and putting away your clothes. In an apartment or house, there's a lot more space, which equals a lot more cleaning. You'll need to stock up on supplies for cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, as well as investing in a Swiffer or vacuum. You'll also need day-to-day cleaning supplies like trash bags, sponges, and paper towels. Laundry is also something you'll need to think about. If there's not laundry in your building, you'll want to make a note of where the nearest laundromat is and make sure to buy a laundry basket that's easily transportable.
Moving off campus is a big step towards the next chapter of your life. If it's your first time living completely on your own, you're bound to make some mistakes, but being prepared can save you a lot of hassle.